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Blog Short #131: You Can’t Do It All!

Last week we talked about the right mindset to pursue your goals – work, relationships, and self-improvement goals. And I encouraged you to adopt the growth mindset over the fixed mindset.

This week we’re focusing on how to narrow your focus on what’s most important to you and get clear on how you want to use your time, energy, and effort to accomplish your goals. This means whittling down to the essential aims and activities to fulfill your purpose.

To do this, I’m borrowing from Greg McKeown, who wrote the book  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less , and highlighting some of his very effective strategies.

But first, let’s start with a quick list of ideas and beliefs that Essentialists use to keep themselves from spreading too thin. Here they are.

An Essentialist:

  • Has a clarity of purpose that guides all other decisions.
  • Prioritizes time, energy, and activities to make the highest contribution.
  • Lives by design consciously and proactively.
  • Embraces the motto “Less but better.”
  • Knows how to discriminate between what’s essential and what’s not.
  • Understands that we can’t have or do it all.
  • Takes the time and mental space to discern what matters most before acting.
  • Knows how to prioritize and eliminate nonessential activities that get in the way.

To sum it up, Essentialists have singular focus and drive aligned with a clear purpose, and remove all extraneous nonessential activities that distract, sap energy, burn up time, and prevent accomplishment.

There are two ways Essentialists activate these ideas and beliefs:

  1. Applying Essentialist principles to long-term goals and objectives.
  2. Applying Essentialist principles to everyday choices and decisions about what activities to engage in and what to forego or eliminate.

Here’s how an Essentialist narrows down to what’s most important.

1. Clarify your purpose.

To figure this out, McKeown recommends asking yourself these three questions:

  1. What do I feel deeply inspired by?
  2. What am I particularly talented at?
  3. What meets a significant need in the world?

Using these questions, let your mind roam and spend some time and space allowing your answers to come up. You likely have multiple talents, are inspired by many things, and can tie these to more than one specific need.

If you’re further along in life, you’re already on a track and have likely put a lot of time into it, but you can still benefit by clarifying your purpose and making changes in your course if that will bring you closer to what you want to do.

The purpose of this exercise is to define your “why” and “what.”

I’ll use myself as an example to help you see how this works.

My talents, according to the StrengthsFinder assessment in order, are “strategic, learner, connectedness, futuristic, and intellection.” And on the Enneagram – “helper.” Skills I have and enjoy are writing, teaching, and problem-solving.

I’m inspired by coming up with strategies people can use to solve problems – psychological and life problems specifically. I like to synthesize information and condense it into the most essential and usable insights.

Based on my work as a psychotherapist, people need to access quality information that pertains to everyday problems, which is easy to assimilate, takes little time to access, and is readily available.

The purpose is to fulfill that need using my talents.

Let’s keep going.

2. Eliminate.

Once you’re clear on your purpose, the second step is to narrow down your activities and pursuits to facilitate that purpose best. To do this, less is better.

Warren Buffet recommends that you pick one thing and practice it until you do it really well. That’s the idea to use here.

Back to my dilemma when thinking about how to fulfill my purpose, I came up with several activities that would do the job: write a blog, write a book, do a podcast, open a YouTube channel to do weekly videos, and provide online courses. I could also continue to offer individual psychotherapy.

You see the problem, right? If I do all of those, I won’t do anything well and likely won’t continue. But, by narrowing down and focusing on one or two activities, I’m more likely to succeed. So I chose to do a weekly blog as the primary activity and create an online course as a secondary activity. That’s it. I wanted to do the other things too, but I chose what I thought I could best do that would fulfill the need.

There are often many good opportunities that come your way that you would love to take advantage of and do, but if you do everything, you’ll do nothing.

You have to make trade-offs and choose those that truly align with the purpose you’ve set out. You may change your purpose or tweak it as you go, but you must stay singular in your focus.

The 90% Rule

Greg McKeown proposes the 90% rule to go through the elimination process effectively. Here’s how to do it:

Line up all those activities or opportunities you would like to pursue and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the best. Anything that doesn’t rate 9 or 10 drops down to zero.

In other words, you should eliminate anything that doesn’t rate at least 90%. That doesn’t mean you might not return to it later, but for now, it’s off the table.

Once you go through this process and are clear on your purpose and the few activities you need to focus on to bring it to life, stick to it.

By removing all the other choices, you free up time, literally and figuratively. You create mental space and have more energy available to devote to one thing. I chose two, but I don’t do them simultaneously. I’ll get five weeks ahead on blogs and use that five weeks to work on the course. That way, my attention is always focused rather than split.

You likely have multiple purposes, which is fine so long as you make room only for activities that take you toward your primary goals.

Being a good parent may be your purpose, or maybe participating in a nonprofit for a cause you believe in. The key is to make sure you can offer adequate attention and focus to what you want to accomplish, and remove the noise that interferes.

You can’t do it all. That’s the truth.

How to Use This Idea Daily

Every day you have choices to make about how to invest your time. You can wash your car or spend an hour talking to your kids. Or maybe sit on the couch and scroll through social media or clean out your inbox of bills and papers that need sorting and prioritizing.

Maybe you need downtime and decide to take a leisurely stroll and let your mind wander instead of working overtime on a project.

What’s most important? This hour, this day, this week, this month, this year. And how does what you do fit into your values and purpose?

Essentialists take those questions seriously and make time for what they most value. That includes leisure, sleep, and time to let your imagination run, in addition to scheduled work.

What’s Next?

Between last week’s and today’s blog, we’ve covered (1) how to approach your work and personal development from a growth mindset that allows you to pursue goals without self-defeating beliefs, and (2)  how to clarify what’s most important to you and what it takes to pursue that.

Next week I’ll review how to create a system to execute your goals.

In the meantime, if you like to read, I would suggest getting a copy of  Essentialism , even if you don’t read it straight through. It’s the kind of book that serves as a reference you read and reread over time.

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week, as always!

All my best,


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